Friday, May 20, 2016

A Short FYI

Google has gotten around to enabling https connections to PC and other Blogger sites.

Therefore, if you want a secure connection, you can use instead of the traditional http connection.

Carry on, good people, and Happy Friday!!

Happy Hour at the Prancing Pony

But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.

He drew a deep breath."Well, I'm back," he said.
--The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien

Last week I finally finished the original Epic campaign in LOTRO, the Shadows of Angmar.

It's been a while, probably since the original time through the SWTOR Smuggler story, that I've been reduced to sitting and looking at the screen, saying, "Wow."

Yes, I'm a bit of a (lapsed) Tolkien geek, so it was only natural that I figured out who certain baddies were long before the game started bashing people over the head with obvious hints.*

I'd also quipped to the oldest mini-Red that while this was supposed to take place prior to the Fellowship leaving Rivendell, you can tell that this was designed for "MMO Middle-earth", as there'd be no way a player could get back and forth from Ered Luin to Rivendell to Angmar to Forochel in anything resembling a "short" 2-3 month time span.

But that's fine. You can't expect a game to maintain it's dramatic tension by adhering religiously to the full scope of Tolkien's creation. "Moving at the speed of plot" is the watchword here.

What stood out the most to me about Shadows of Angmar was that the LOTRO development team wasn't afraid to make one of the big baddies a woman, and a clever, cunning, yet complex woman at that. It is something that you'd not see in Tolkien's work itself, outside of perhaps Ungoliant or Shelob, but in a game designed for the 21st Century it worked very well.

I can see the Tolkien purists not liking the Shadows of Angmar epic questline, but then again I can also see them disliking LOTRO itself in the same way that they dislike the LotR movies: if it doesn't religiously adhere to the books, then it must not be worth playing/watching. What I do believe, however, is that you can remain faithful to the source material while expanding upon it. The devs made logical conclusions based on the source material, and that enhance the overall MMO experience. Even when the source material indicated some things, such as the Dunedain of the North maintaining some settlements in The Angle** after the fall of Arthedain, that didn't detract from the story driven placement of the hidden Ranger encampment of Esteldin in the North Downs.


The funny thing is, even with some revisions to zones such as the Trollshaws, LOTRO is still decidedly an Old School style MMO. The Epic questline takes you back and forth across Eriador in a way that is simply not done in WoW these days. While such trooping back and forth isn't realistic due to the timeline involved, it does provide an epic scope to the story.

Another thing that made my leveling easier was my familiarity with MMO tropes. While the mini-Reds will do their own thing and collect quests here and there, I'm so used to MMO-style quest collection*** that I just leveled very quickly without intending to. I'd not exactly say I power leveled, because to me power leveling is something that takes you from L1 through L50 in a week or two, but the mini-Reds kept remarking on how quickly I shot up to the low 50s. "When seven years playing MMOs you reach, leveling as fast you will" was my reply.

I also had the benefit of them having used my account for their initial forays into LOTRO, so they'd unlocked some areas --such as Forochel and Angmar-- without me needing to use my steady collection of Turbine Points to keep moving forward. But for me the biggest boon was that they unlocked the gold cap, which helped me out a LOT. Especially when I finally had to dip my toe into the auction house to buy a weapon, as my (then) current weapon was woefully inadequate for the zones I was in.


When the Epic storyline is complete, you really have a sense of accomplishment. It may not be THE epic storyline of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, but you can be satisfied that you struck a blow against the Shadow in the North.

But the best part? You didn't need to raid to complete the story. Sure, you can raid, but it's not the necessary to finish the Shadows of Angmar. I can see where this is the genesis of SWTOR's idea for the original class story to be completely separate --and designed for solo play-- away from the rest of the SWTOR stories. Sure, you can get a fellowship to help, but if you play it smart you can solo the Epic questline courtesy of the Inspiration buff.

Now, I suppose it's time to grind a bit to unlock the Moria expac....

And go back to SWTOR, too, I suppose.

*Well, to me they were obvious.

**Just south of Rivendell. It's location would be ideal to have the protection of the House of Elrond without drawing attention to itself.

***You know, the type that focuses on a single area from a quest hub and then you move onto the next quest hub. LOTRO isn't so neat and clean in that regard, but compartmentalizing the story by focusing on a single quest hub at a time speeds things up considerably. Besides, why would you want to kill all those bears twice??

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Real Life Intervention

I realize that as gamers, it's easy to focus on games or the entertainment world to such an extent that the real world is some other place way on the other side of the galaxy.* But there are times when the real world intrudes and you have to pay attention.

This past week has been one of those times.

I know this has gotten airplay as far away as Deutche Welle and NHK (Japan), but there are people who still haven't heard of the wildfires in Alberta, Canada. The wildfires, fed by a perfect storm of weather conditions, forced the evacuation of the entire city of Fort McMurray (80,000+ people). While the latest reports said that most of the city was saved, there has been a high personal cost.


Fellow MMO blogger and Blizzard Watch columnist Stacey Landry, who uses the name Vidyala on her blog Manalicious and webcomic From Draenor With Love, has family personally affected by the fire. Her brother, Matt Landry, and her sister-in-law, Aileen, lost their home to the fire.

To help her brother and sister-in-law get back on their feet, Stacey has created a GoFundMe campaign to provide some assistance. If you can, please help by visiting the site and helping to spread the word.

Matt and Aileen's Lost House Fund by GoFundMe

*Or ocean. But still reachable by flightpath. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

As the Old World Turns

When you have a Facebook group promoting your WoW "legacy server", like Nostralius has, you're not exactly hiding in plain sight*.

So, while it isn't exactly a surprise that Blizz eventually told Nostralius to shut it down, I am surprised at the latest news from the Nostralius front: the Nostralius team is scheduling a meeting with Blizzard at the Blizzard campus.

I can't imagine much coming out of the meeting, as Blizzard really holds all the cards here, but if this meeting does come out at least it gives them the opportunity to give the appearance of concern for what I'm going to dub the legacy community. I suppose I could call the pirates, or snobs, or whatever, but the reasons for wanting to play on a legacy server are likely as varied as reasons for playing on any MMO.

Well, outside of the "fun" part. I can't imagine anyone continuing to play for very long if they're not having fun.

But as for fun....

I'm in front of the Hobbit.

Some fireworks from the LOTRO 9th Anniversary event.

*I realize not everybody has a FB account, but if you don't you'll have to trust me that it really does exist.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Resisting The Sirens' Song

I've been debating what to do when I finally reach the limit on the LOTRO story and I have to start grinding Turbine Points to pick up another region. In this case, the next region is a biggie, points-wise: The Mines of Moria. I'm very sure I won't be able to grind enough points to purchase the expac before the 9th Anniversary special disappears, so I've come to the conundrum whether to break down and actually purchase some Turbine Points to get this taken care of.

In the meantime, I've been considering that maybe the SWTOR story has advanced far enough that I can jump back into it and not have the urge to stay up all night finishing the story.

And then, on the heels of the Nostralius server shutdown, came this in my e-mail folder:

Just like last time, the timing makes you wonder whether
someone from Blizz is actually reading this blog. Nah....

The thing is, I've done this already. I logged back in for a week and puttered around, but low level BGs were about impossible to get into, and Trade Chat was as bad as ever.* I wasn't about to break my traditional WoW expac methodology and use the instant-L90 boost when I prefer to start at L1 and level all the way up, and seven days is not exactly enough time to level all the way to L90 anyway.

If Warlords of Draenor is as awesome as the e-mail claims, I can wait. By the time my toons got from L1 all the way up to the current expac**, everybody had cleared out of the leveling zones. None of the insane competition for resources worked out well for exploring each new world.

The places that I pause the most and come back to whenever I level are the BC zones. I don't know why, exactly, but the BC zones just fascinate me. Northrend had the occasional hit and miss zone --Boring Tundra, anyone?-- but even Outland's stinker zone Blade's Edge Mountains had plenty of interesting quests and scenery to get lost in. It's a shame that Outland is basically on life support while the devs focus on the new shiny.

Thanks for the offer, Blizz, but I think I'll pass. Now, if you get around to creating a legacy server, I'd be very interested, but I already know the answer to that one.

*I hear people --the mini-Reds among them-- complain about some of the "sellers" on World Chat on LOTRO's Gladden-US server, and I laugh. If they want to see what a really bad MMO chat is like, they need to watch Trade Chat some day.

**If you count Wrath of the Lich King, I've done it four times. I could count my Warlock for a fifth time, but while he made it to Cataclysm's leveling zones he never got to max level. I got too burned out getting creamed in BGs in the Warlock-weak Cata expac.

Friday, April 22, 2016

2016 Has Been Hell on 80s Icons

I've been contemplating how to deviate from the usual focus of PC, but I kind of threw up my hands and said to hell with it.

Prince Rogers Nelson is dead.

While I may have technically been born in the 60s, I am most definitely a child of the 80s.

And that means the soundtrack of my teenage years includes hair metal, heavy metal, prog rock*, new wave, and Prince. Not necessarily in that order.

Make no mistake about it, Prince was an arrogant bastard, but he was also a musical genius. Unlike Yngwie Malmsteen** who, in his arrogance claimed he was better than Bach, Prince was by far Bach's successor in terms of innovation and sound and musicality. Of the musicians who came out of the 80s, he was one of the top icons of the business. Prince changed the way how music meshed --funk and rock, R&B and pop-- and he did it in such a way that popular music was never the same afterward. Like Nirvana in 1991 and David  Bowie in the late 60s, the music world changed when Prince burst onto the scene.

He was also the consummate professional in the same vein of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, never refusing to settle for "pretty good", and always trying to give the audience the best performance possible.

Prince's halftime show at the Super Bowl back in 2007 exemplified this, playing in a driving rainstorm:

Prince was also a very private man who was very protective of his music. Hence, while I'd love to have a Machinima available --set to Prince's music-- I couldn't find any that hadn't already been taken down.

Rest well, Prince. At least you made it past 1999, man.

*Rush. 'Nuff said.

**For the record, I do have his Trilogy album. He's good, but nowhere near as good as he thinks he is. Musicians need confidence to get out on stage and play, but Yngwie makes me roll my eyes.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Where's a Demon Hunter When you Need One?

Looks like WoW's latest expac, Legion, will drop at the end of August.

That's a very very long time for "not much" in the context of new content for Azeroth, but we'll see how that pans out. In terms of context, they're going back to one of their favorite baddies --Gul'dan and the Burning Legion-- so in some respects it'll be a blast from the past.

But this is very much a WoW-at-a-crossroads release. Blizzard is no longer releasing sub numbers, so there won't be that metric to scale against, but they absolutely need a healthy WoW to keep other projects afloat. WoW's profits allow Blizzard the luxury of taking their time on projects to get them "just right" (the soon to be released Overwatch) or to kill a project when it simply isn't working out (Titan). Without those profits, it is likely that (for example) Heroes of the Storm would have ever seen the light of day, as it required a completely different mindset from Blizzard's development team.

Notice I didn't include Activision in this listing. Activision, well, likely has other plans for its Blizzard sibling, and those probably include maximum profit for minimum work. If Legion stalls out early like Warlords did, then that might be the last major expac for WoW; Activision will demand more Heroes of the Storm and less WoW from the Blizzard development team.

Here's to hoping that the MMO standard bearer doesn't fall victim to the bean counters and get put off to a steady state level of support.